boat fence by Stavros Kammas
Sherman Alexie's description of a paragraph is unforgettable, at least for some with a little hint. Here's what he has to say: "I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn't have the vocabulary to say 'paragraph,' but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs." He then describes, in his essay "The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me," the pictures that he had once imagined. His reservation was a paragraph within the United States. His family lived in a house that was, yes, a paragraph. Each member of his family, all seven members, were paragraphs within their house, yet "each family member," he believes, "existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us."
This sounds like an essay in the making for that fence-building Alexie. Or any other enclosure, barricade or coop that he or any writer would like to assemble.
But before we get that essay built, all chained up and cinder-blocked, we must say goodbye to the paragraph. It is time to say hello to the sentence and give a big warm embrace to Constance Hale. She wants to take us on the water. Oh, dear.
Hale envisions "a sentence as a boat. Each sentence, after all, has a distinct shape, and it comes with something that makes it move forward or stay still — whether a sail, a motor or a pair of oars. There are as many kinds of sentences as there are seaworthy vessels: canoes and sloops, barges and battleships, Mississippi riverboats and dinghies all-too-prone to leaks. And then there are the impostors, flotsam and jetsam — a log heading downstream, say, or a coconut bobbing in the waves without a particular destination."
She can't stop there. She gets to the nitty gritty of subjects and predicates in her essay, "The Sentence as a Miniature Narrative." She likes her boat, and she is not about to step off it, just yet. Here she goes:
"The outline of our boat, the meaning of our every utterance, is given form by nouns and verbs. Nouns give us sentence subjects — our boat hulls. Verbs give us predicates — the forward momentum, the twists and turns, the abrupt stops.
"For a sentence to be a sentence we need a What (the subject) and a So What (the predicate). The subject is the person, place, thing or idea we want to express something about; the predicate expresses the action, condition or effect of that subject. Think of the predicate as a predicament — the situation the subject is in.
"I like to think of the whole sentence as a mini-narrative. It features a protagonist (the subject) and some sort of drama (the predicate): The searchlight sweeps. Harvey keeps on keeping on. The drama makes us pay attention."
Now where does that boat go? Somewhere inside a fence. Undoubtedly, it is somewhere inside a fence--a marina?--if you had Mr. Alexie and Ms. Hale sitting down together for the blue plate special to climb that literary Mount Everest café of conversation. Where would you find such a place? In that land known as the mixed metaphor. Here are more.
Fence Boat by Tea Kolo